Undocumented status has no bearing on eligibility for LHWCA benefits
Case name: Bollinger Shipyards, Inc., et al. v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, U.S. Department of Labor, and Rodriguez, No. 09-60095 (5th Cir. 04/22/10).
Ruling: The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the employer's petition to review an order of the Benefits Review Board, which awarded benefits to an undocumented immigrant under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act.
What it means:
Although it is a crime under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 for an undocumented immigrant to present false or fraudulent documents to obtain employment in the United States, a violation of IRCA does not prevent the employee from obtaining benefits under the LHWCA. Undocumented immigrants are eligible to recover workers' compensation benefits under the LHWCA because the statute makes no reference to an individual's immigration status in defining whether he is a covered employee.
Summary: A pipe fitter fell and was injured while performing a welding job for the employer. He obtained employment by falsely stating that he was a U.S. citizen and providing a false Social Security number. The employer did not dispute that the accident occurred in the course of employment but contended that the worker was not entitled to benefits because of his undocumented status and presentation of false information. It paid benefits for almost two years but stopped after learning of the employee's immigration status. The BRB upheld the administrative law judge's award of temporary total disability benefits and authorization of back surgery, MRI testing, and orthopedic supplies. The 5th Circuit denied the employer's request to review the BRB's decision, concluding that the employee's immigration status had no impact on his eligibility for benefits under the LHWCA.
The employer compared the BRB's award of benefits to the claimant as akin to "awarding benefits to a drug dealer" or "a pirate or Mafioso."It further contended that the accident caused the claimant no loss of wage-earning capacity because he had no "legal" wage-earning capacity at the time of injury.
The 5th Circuit examined the section of the LHWCA entitled "Aliens," pointing out that the statute provides compensation to "aliens not residents" in the same manner as it provides to residents. As a result, the claimant was eligible for benefits.
The claimant's violation of IRCA did not preclude his receipt of LHWCA benefits, the 5th Circuit said, because workers' compensation is a nondiscretionary, statutory remedy that serves as a substitute for tort claims the individual could otherwise bring against the employer. Because undocumented immigrants employed as longshoremen have the right to sue in tort for negligence, it would be "illogical" not to allow them to "pursue the substitutionary remedy for personal injuries sustained in the workplace."
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
July 12, 2010
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